Baaaad shepherds, baaaad sheep? Saturday, 4th week in ordinary time- Mk 6:30-34
Everything in Mark’s Gospel happens ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’ (eutheos in Greek). These words found in the Greek text of Mark’s Gospel appear forty times and gives us a sense of how fast paced Mark’s Gospel is and how urgent the ministry of Jesus was. A quick look at chapter six revels how much is happening and how quickly it does. Jesus is rejected in Nazareth after which he commissions his disciples to mission. Sadly at this time King Herod has John the Baptist executed. By the time we are done with chapter six, Jesus would have fed five thousand, walked on the water and healed the sick at Gennesaret.
It is in this hurried context that Jesus invites His apostles who have just come back from mission to rest a while. The Lord is no stranger to the joys of solitude in the wilderness. He had spent forty days in communion with His father before He began His mission and now He stresses the need for His followers to rest too. It is no wonder that he chooses a ‘deserted place’ for them to rest.
It is evident that the ministry of the twelve has been successful for they are followed by the masses who seek guidance from Jesus and the apostles. Scripture tells us that the twelve had “no leisure even to eat,” and they followed Jesus and the twelve on foot beating them to the other side of the lake of Galilee.
While the Lord recognizes the need for rest (as should all ministers who work) His heart melts with compassion as he sees the ‘great crowds’ who are like ‘sheep without a shepherd’. There are several things to ponder about here. If you notice, this text was preceded with the narrative of Herod’s execution of John the Baptist. Herod was the ‘shepherd’ over his people but he is too busy celebrating his birthday party with his “courtiers, officers and leaders of Galilee” if not executing a prophet. It is evident that the secular shepherds had failed the people.
In contrast Jesus and the apostles have made a great impact on the masses that follow Him. So great is their desire to be with Him that they use all and every means to get to Him. They have heard the teachings of Jesus and of the apostles and have recognized in them true shepherds. The people do not ask for an air conditioned Church or bother how long the homily will be; any place is good enough, even if it is a ‘deserted one.’ Such was the hunger for real food and Jesus does not disappoint them for He, “began to teach them many things.”
There is much to ponder for us today, both clergy and laity. For us as clergy we need to see the fall in number of our congregation as a reflection of a miss-focused ministry. For the apostles and Jesus the focus was teaching and preaching and not primarily organizing Church social events.
The sheep too are called to reflect on many times creature comforts of a Church or incidentals during worship take precedence over the creator for whose glory the Lord’s Day was set apart. Those who followed the Lord did not ask where or when the service would be held or end, they followed because they hungered for ‘The Word’. Do we hunger enough for Jesus to follow Him into a deserted place?
Fr Warner D’Souza
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